“Sean Caulfield: Landscapes: Transformed/Transfigured”

The blackness and voids in the artwork here feels like a future world laid waste, but it also feels like us

Burning Cloud by Sean Caulfield

It doesn't have a name. It is nowhere. It's a darkened village in a landscape of black oil and fire where color, if it ever existed, has been obliterated, and the original residents, whoever they were, have long since gone extinct. What is left are voids, the turbulence of storms and floods, explosions that spew viscous fluids and bilious clouds of rank acid and fumes. The old inhabitants may be gone, but their homes and machines remain, and the noxious effects of that civilization's unstoppable need laid waste. You cannot live here, even with the abandoned, but still pristine, wood homes like cabins, flooded in the black seas of oil, and even if bizarrely modern contraptions populate the silence. Even if boats still float on the poison oceans. This place can no longer hold life.

Or so it would seem.

Inside the flooded structures are figures like trees and roots sprouting from the roofs and walls, waving their branches toward the darkened clouds, somehow alive, somehow striving still, even after all the acrid terror that has taken place here. They ride ships low and heavy in the seas like Civil War ironsides. They sit beside the weird, lonely machinery shaped like gramophones with bells pointed skyward emitting exhaust instead of music. They are part of the world, they are of it. They are one with the industrial product. They beat inside the abandoned works like hearts.

It's a wasteland with the resonance of a distant lonely planet or an oil field in West Texas writhing with turbines, derricks, and dust devils. It is uninhabitable, and yet the entire landscape seems organic, siphoning pitch like blood.

The predominant tone is black. The blackness is in the sky. It's in the ubiquitous liquid. It is also in the soil. Some objects like great tubes grow out of the ground and spew the blackness, like tar, into pools. Out of the pools grow fires and alien life forms, combustible things with unrecognizable shapes: horns, balloons, mushroom clouds.

But most of all fire.

This world, whatever it is, is our own. We can review the imagery as if through a telescope and comfort ourselves that it's all far, far away. That it isn't even real. Only it is. The artist, like Seuss in The Lorax, is telling us our future. No matter how far away it may look, it is familiar. This is terrifying, because despite whatever life may exist in this landscape, it is not thriving, it is clinging. It is holding on as well as it can in a roiling storm, prolonging the moment before it is consumed, dashed against the rocks, left stranded, or drowned in the chemical deep.

It does resemble a landscape, this nowhere, but it also looks like something else: a body. The roots of its dying creatures expand in black tendrils like a nervous system. It isn't a telescope we're looking through, it's a microscope. It isn't a distant planet, it is ourselves. The oil is in our veins. The smoke chokes our lungs. The fire obliterates us from the inside out. It is difficult to identify hope here. It's treacherous to find the way out. To see past the destruction. To feel, in this overburdened place, that the tide can be turned.

“Sean Caulfield: Landscapes: Transformed/Transfigured”

Flatbed Press & Gallery, 2832 E. MLK, 512/477-9328
Through July 29
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